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Current News & Issues: Wilderness


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The following article appeared in the Idaho Mountain Express for July 2, 2004. View the original article online at


Advocates ask for more wilderness -- Simpson's Boulder-White Clouds plan criticized for catering to motorized groups

By Greg Stahl, Express Staff Writer

Congressman Mike Simpson was prepared for criticism when he stood before more than 200 local residents in Ketchum on Thursday morning.

"I want you all to know Iím ready for this," he said. "I had my Tums. I had my Zantac. And I had my aspirin."

A full house of local and South Central Idaho residents gathered in Ketchum on Thursday to listen or add their 2 cents on Second District Republican Congressman Mike Simpsonís proposal to designate wilderness in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains. Express photos by David N. Seelig

Simpson and several of his staffers stopped in Ketchum for a two-hour town hall meeting at the American Legion Hall. The purpose of the visit was to collect public input on his proposed Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act proposal, which he said he plans to submit to Congress later this summer.

In a nutshell, the proposed legislation would designate 294,000 acres of federal land as wilderness, establish a network of permanent off-road vehicle trails and offer federally managed land to Custer County as part of a package designed to give the rural county an economic shot in the arm.

The congressmanís opening joke about stomach pain proved prophetic. The vast majority of the people who spoke at the Ketchum meeting were wilderness supporters who said more wilderness is necessary to preserve wildlife habitat, clean water and a legacy for future generations. Moreover, most wilderness supporters stressed that wilderness designation is bigger than themselves or their abilities to gain access to it.

Singer Carol King is a strong advocate of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act and a co-founder of the NREPA Network, which strives to implement a more far reaching wilderness bill. Express photos by David N. Seelig

They were critical of the proposed land giveaway to Custer County. They were critical of proposed motorized corridors. They were critical of the proposed involvement of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation as a management entity in the Sawtooth Valley.

A handful of off-road vehicle advocates from the Snake River Plain braved the overwhelmingly green crowd to express their feelings of being increasingly shut out of places to which they enjoyed historic access.

Simpson said he got what he expected, and he was prepared with a rebuttal at the meetingís conclusion. He told the crowd to buck up and compromise.

"If weíre going to say that we need to take all this out and make it all wilderness, we may as well just go home," he said. "What I want you all to do, if you would please, I want you to understand that compromises arenít easy Ö You need to put yourself in other peopleís shoes for a while. Thatís what Iíve done, and itís changed the way I look at it."

But Wood River Valley residents and Idaho conservation groups said at the meeting that the congressman has a long way to go.

Ketchum resident Deborah Kronenberg pointed out that wilderness is not about human use, but the lack thereof.

"Itís just not about us," she said. "Itís not wilderness if itís cut by motorized corridors."

Kronenberg said she has not been able to access the mountains of Central Idaho for two years, but she looks forward to the day she can return, if that day comes.

"If I canít get there on my own two feet, Iím not going," she said. "Itís enough to know itís there. The backcountry is not just about human use. Itís too dear and rare for that."

Conversely, Mark Alexander, the public lands director for the Magic Valley Trail Machine Association, said Simpsonís proposal would add about 10 percent to Idahoís existing wilderness. He sees that as 10 percent too much.

"Our stand is, we feel there is too much wilderness now," he said. "Weíve given in to wilderness all too often. We hope that you can see our needs."

To a degree, the public hearing was a whoís who of the Idaho conservation community. The Idaho Conservation League, Boulder White Clouds Council, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Society and NREPA Newtwork were all there.

But there were also local politicians, local merchants and local residents. For every person who spoke, about six watched without saying a word. Of the local speakers, almost all were pro-wilderness and critical of Simpsonís plan.

"To me, wilderness isnít about recreation: us, them, who gets what," said Lynne Stone, executive director of the Boulder White Clouds Council. "I know youíre reasonable. I know the Republican Party cares about the environment and wildlife, and we can fix this."

Stone said the proposed motorized recreation on the western front of the White Cloud Mountains is unacceptable. She and others predicted that the numbers of motorized users would increase dramatically should Simpsonís framework be adopted as law.

"We urge you to get rid of this absurd idea of opening Champion Lakes to motorized use. Champion Lakes is not even open to mountain bikes," Stone said.

Idaho Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, joined others in criticizing a proposal to give money and land to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation for motorized recreation and campground development.

"I donít think they should be getting this designation," she said. "I donít think they should be taking over management from the federal land managers. Itís an under-funded agency. Theyíre having a difficult time taking care of what theyíve got on their plate right now."

Displaying a penchant for wit on the public stage, Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon wrapped up the dialogue fittingly.

"In Ketchum, our economic vitality is the mountains around us," he said. "Wilderness designation requires very little federal action and no federal money. When I get stressed from day-to-day life here, I simply go north to the mountains for rejuvenation. I want you to know, congressman, that more wilderness means less Zantac, less Tums, less aspirin."

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